What Is the Portland Clean Energy Fund?
The Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF) was passed in November 2018 with an impressive 65% approval vote. The PCEF is designed to provide green jobs and healthy homes for everyone who lives in Portland, with a particular focus on those who are most affected by the climate crisis, racial injustice, displacement, financial insecurity, and now COVID-19.
This historic environmental ballot measure is the nation’s first-ever municipal climate change fund. The PCEF was passed by a diverse coalition of communities and was largely passed by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities in Portland.
Purpose of PCEF
The PCEF provides dedicated funding for climate action that also advances racial and social justice causes in the community. It brings in approximately $50 million in new annual revenue per year and specifically supports projects like solar panel installation, living-wage green job training for BIPOC community members, planting of trees and urban gardens, and efficiency-related home upgrades.
The PCEF was created by the community for the community and strives to promote justice and equity while simultaneously counteracting climate change in order to create opportunities for marginalized community members and build up the city’s resilience.
Grant Committee and City Staffing
The Portland Clean Energy Fund Grant Committee is made up of nine diverse residents of Portland. This committee evaluates how effective the PCEF is at achieving the goals of the initiative, and they make funding recommendations to the Mayor and City Council.
The committee must accurately reflect the racial, ethnic, and economic diversity of Portland as whole. Two positions must be filled by residents who live east of 82nd Avenue, and all members must possess significant experience working with the types of projects that the PCEF supports. The project committee carries out their work at the City’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.
The PCEF Grant Committee developed four core principles that guide the program:
- Justice Driven – The PCEF will work to advance systemic changes in order to address historic and current discrimination and to center all of Portland’s disadvantaged and marginalized groups with a particular emphasis on Black and Indigenous people.
- Accountable – The committee will use transparent funding, oversight, and engagement processes that enable continuous learning, checks and balances within the program, and constant improvement. The program will demonstrate its achievements of social, economic, and environmental benefits and remain accountable to beneficiaries, grantees, and all residents of Portland.
- Community Powered – The committee will trust the community’s knowledge, leadership, innovation, and experience. They will build upon existing work and partnerships while encouraging diverse coalitions and supporting emerging community groups. Community-driven approaches that foster community power will be engaged and invested in.
- Focused On Climate Action With Multiple Benefits – The fund will invest in people, places, jobs, and processes that encourage climate resilience and increase community wealth while building healthy communities. The committee will work to mitigate the displacement of marginalized community members, particularly that which happens as a result of gentrification.
PCEF Priority Populations
The PCEF was created to provide benefits to two specific priority populations:
Helping the People on the Frontlines of Climate Change
Historically, people with low income and communities of color have had less access to the benefits of green investments. These communities are also more vulnerable to impacts of climate change like extreme heat, wildfire smoke, flooding, vector-borne diseases, and so forth. As such, the fund prioritizes these populations for grants that help address issues of concern.
Priority Populations for Workforce and Contractor Development Projects
Grants that address the workforce and contractor developments are targeted to women, people of color, people with disabilities, and people who are chronically underemployed – individuals who have not equitable access to workforce and contractor opportunities within the clean energy economy.
Developing a more diverse and overall well-trained workforce and contractor pool in the Portland area requires reaching these populations and breaking down the barriers that have previously prevented them from thriving in these fields.
Clean Energy Surcharge and Revenue
The PCEF receives its revenue from a Clean Energy Surcharge on large retail corporations. The 1% business licensing surcharge applies to retailers who have a total gross revenue of $1 billion nationally and $500,000 or more within the City of Portland, with some exceptions. Utilities, co-ops, credit unions, construction firms, retirement services, and retailers of qualified groceries, medicines, drugs, and health care service are exempt from this surcharge.
The surcharge does not apply to basic goods and services that qualify for purchase with SNAP benefits, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, breads, cereals, snacks, non-alcoholic beverages, and seeds and plants that produce edible food.
The City of Portland’s Revenue Division estimates that the annual revenue generated from this surcharge will be between $44 million and $61 million. The actual collections vary based on economic conditions, the proportion of sales that are classified as retail versus wholesale, and other factors.
All revenue from the surcharge will be deposited into the PCEF and subsequently disbursed in the form of grants for programs and projects that meet the fund’s guidelines and principles.
PCEF Solar And Other Eligible Projects
Specific examples of projects that are supported by PCEF include;
- the installation of solar power systems (schedule my free consultation)
- efficiency upgrades on multifamily housing units,
- new workforce training programs in clean energy job niches like manufacturing and installation, construction of shared food gardens,
- and planting trees to increase the tree canopy in heavily concreted communities.
Each of these projects helps ensure that marginalized and traditionally underserved communities are prepared and equipped to handle the changing climate, such as lowering their monthly utility bills. The PCEF will also help the larger Portland community achieve the goal of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions and switch to 100% renewable energy sources for the city.
Energy Trust of Oregon Incentives vs PCEF
The Energy Trust of Oregon offers support and incentives for residential energy efficiency upgrades and solar energy system installation, but its mission does not specifically support climate change or social and racial justice. The PCEF provides desperately needed funding on top of the Energy Trust’s dollars in order to reach marginalized communities and it provides a long-term funding system that won’t expire like many solar incentive programs.